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Cyber-attack Protection

Volume 637: debated on Monday 5 March 2018

1. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s policies on protecting the UK from cyber-attack. (904151)

We take the cyber-threat very seriously. We are strengthening our defences against increasingly sophisticated attacks. Our approach to cyber-defence includes a wide range of technical, operational and administrative measures, as well as close co-operation with the National Cyber Security Centre. Indeed, this week we are opening a dedicated state-of-the-art cyber-defence school at the Defence Academy in Shrivenham to enhance the cyber- skills of our defence personnel.

With the National Cyber Security Centre recording 34 C2 attacks and 762 slightly less serious C3 attacks, will the Secretary of State outline the steps his Department is taking to shore up our defences as best as humanly possible against an attack that some watchdogs have described as “imminent” in the light of rising Russian aggression?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight this increasing threat, which is why we have set out plans to spend £1.9 billion over a five-year period on making sure that our cyber-defence is right and that we develop the capabilities not just to defend against attacks but to be able to operationalise this ourselves.

Britain’s forces are a major part of the enhanced forward presence in the Baltic states. At a recent meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, we heard of some of the malign attacks on those forces, particularly on the German deployment in Lithuania. I am not asking my right hon. Friend to give me any great detail, because that is necessarily secret, but can he assure the House that we are learning from every attack and that we are training people, down to quite a low level, to make sure that our forces are best equipped to deal with this?

That is a very important point, because it is not just about the work that we do centrally; it is about training our forces to best understand the threats to which they will potentially be exposed as they operate in sometimes increasingly hostile fields. We have done that for all troops engaged in NATO operations, and more globally.

Local authorities can be vulnerable to cyber-attacks. One in four councils, including East Dunbartonshire, have experienced cyber-security incidents, yet many do not even provide mandatory training in cyber-security. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and indeed with the devolved Administrations, to make sure our local authorities do not become a soft target for cyber-attack?

Part of the reason why we set up the National Cyber Security Centre was to make sure that all elements of government are working together to tackle this issue. I will take up the hon. Lady’s point with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to highlight the threats and challenges that local government faces.

Young men and women traditionally joined Her Majesty’s armed forces, in large part, because of the physical challenge and the desire for combat experience. Should we not increasingly be recruiting young men and women because of their digital and IT proficiency, so that we can develop an elite cadre of cyber-specialists?

As we face new challenges, we have to be realistic that we need a whole different range of skills—not just the traditional skills that have been the backbone of our armed forces, but new skills—and we are looking at how we can best recruit those skills into our armed forces, and not just into the regulars but also into the reserves to boot.

Surely the Secretary of State knows that what Mr Putin announced a few days ago is basically a new cold war, and it is not just cyber-warfare but every kind of warfare. At a time when Europe seems to be fragmenting, our commitment to NATO is deeply hurt by Donald Trump moving into a new phase of withdrawal. What are we going to do about all this?

Putin has made it quite clear that he has hostile intent towards this country, and we have been seeing the build-up of his forces across the eastern front. Given what they have been doing over many years, we have to wake up to that threat and respond to it. Not just through nuclear weapons—although our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent is absolutely integral to maintaining the peace—but through conventional armed forces, we have to match what Putin is doing with his Russian forces. We have to be aware of the challenges we face, which is very much why we are engaging in the modernising defence programme to ensure that we can match the Russians.